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A great wave of hope lifted Obama

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By Rick Howell

When Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois captured the presidency on Nov. 4, it was the biggest slap in the face for American racism since the Emancipation Proclamation and Dr. Martin Luther King’s life and career.

Obama’s lead in the polls held steady through all of October. Yet, there was always the feeling that - given the thoroughly racist history of this country - race just might cause him to be defeated. We all heard about “the Bradley effect,” the reference to former L.A. mayor Tom Bradley, a black Democrat who was leading comfortably in the polls in his race for California governor in 1982, but lost on Election Day.

To whatever extent that existed, Obama was able to overcome even that. Anyone who’d been at one of his rallies would have seen that his supporters were white, black, young and old. But you can’t underestimate how much this country has grown from its heritage of slavery and racism to be able in 2008 to elect a black man as president.

However anyone voted, and whatever your political philosophy, we should all have the decency to appreciate that. The fact Obama carried Virginia was also a sign that even here in the Old Dominion we have triumphed over racism.

Decades ago, the Democratic Party in this state was committed to the notorious “massive resistance” policy of resisting court-ordered integration of public schools. In fact, it took a moderate Republican, Linwood Holton, to put a stop to that ugly chapter of our state’s history.

In describing what has happened here politically, nobody put it better than Holton’s son-in-law, our popular governor Tim Kaine: “Old Virginny is dead.” He’s right. What’s more, it needed to die.

Election Night was a glorious event for the many millions of Americans who voted our hopes rather than our fears. We know the country is in a mess, one largely created by the horrendous policies of Bush and Cheney. We were and are willing to put our hopes in the person of a man who has demonstrated his ability, his intellect, and his love of his country.

We resisted the fears that came from the other side; the nutty stuff about “palling around with terrorists,” the non-issue obsessions with Obama’s former preacher, and the predictable stuff about “he’ll raise your taxes.”

Poor John McCain had the Bush albatross around his neck from the moment he was nominated. He had little to offer but more of the same policies and the strange choice of Sarah Palin as vice president.

So, people voted their hopes and chose a new start with some fresh ideas and a truly inspiring figure who knows how to appeal to the best instincts in people.

Barack Obama won a landslide in the Electoral College. He won in every region of the country, blowing away the old red state/blue state frame of reference. His victory was entirely national.

The Republican Party now lies in ruins, and it must either change or die. If all it wants to be is a party of conservative white men and Christian fundamentalists, well, it had better accept the reality of losing at the national level for a long, long time.

In the future, there will be time to discuss Mark Warner’s victory and the shocker in the Fifth District, where it looks like Virgil Goode may have gone down to defeat.

But now, those of us who voted for Barack Obama have every right to savor what feels like a victory that’s been a long time coming. He did it; we did it. We won, and the country won, too.

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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, is a member of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.